Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Am Such a Dork

Part 2 is coming later today or tomorrow, I promise, but yesterday was a fairly significant anniversary that I missed. On April 9, 1959, NASA announced the 7 test pilots selected for Project Mercury. Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Wally Shirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton were selected out of an original pool of 69 military test pilots.

Of those 7, I actually met one of them.

It was sometime back in the mid 90s, so I was in my mid 20s. I was flying back from somewhere in the mid-west and had a connecting flight Columbus, OH back to DC. It was an evening flight, getting back home fairly late. When I boarded the plane, it was pretty much just me and an older couple sitting across the aisle. I thought the gentleman looked familiar, but I wasn’t entirely sure.

The flight was quick, and when we got off the plane in DC, the terminals were almost deserted. The three of us were walking back towards the main terminal building when I turned to the guy, smiled and said “Excuse me sir, but are you John Glenn?”

“Why, yes I am.”

This is about the time that the geek circuit breaker in my head blew. This safety device normally keeps my inner nerd in check, but extraordinary circumstances can cause it to fail in a most spectacular fashion.

“WOW,” I just about screamed. “I’ve never met a real astronaut before. I’ve met plenty of pilots, but never a real astronaut!” I swear on all that I hold dear that I said that with the same tone, inflection, and speed as an 8 year-old boy meeting Spiderman. My voice was at last half an octave higher and twice as fast as I normally speak.

“So, are you from Ohio?” was his reply, which I thought an odd one at the time.

Those readers who are students of the American political scene of the past 40 years may have heard the John Glenn did some stuff after he left NASA in 1964. Had a whole different career, even. Of course I knew that, but that damned geek circuit overrides all the other ones.

“Nah. I’m just coming home from [wherever-I-was]. It was a connecting flight.” This was about the time he lost interest in the conversation. Not that I blame him. It was late, and here’s this mildly excitable dork who isn’t a constituent, so what’s the upside of talking to him.

I also spoke to his wife, Annie, who was charming and gracious. I said I thought it must have been difficult to be an astronaut’s wife. She said it was, but shrugged it off in sort of an “aw shucks” kind of way that was just delightful. I asked her if she thought the movie The Right Stuff did a good job portraying the two of them, and she said it did, except for that “nonsense” about him humming and singing during re-entry from his flight. He is a professional, and had plenty to do other than hum.

It wasn’t until I was home (or maybe the next day) that the breaker re-set and I realized that he was a U.S. Senator, too. Geez. I gotta up the amps on that thing.

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